Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The RAND Research Report and the GWOT

The just-released RAND Research report on "How Terrorist Groups End" is getting a lot of play today for allegedly saying that the way to end Al Qaeda is to stop the War in Iraq. (PDF Download) But read the abstract again:
How do terrorist groups end? The evidence since 1968 indicates that terrorist groups rarely cease to exist as a result of winning or losing a military campaign. Rather, most groups end because of operations carried out by local police or intelligence agencies or because they join the political process. This suggests that the United States should pursue a counterterrorism strategy against al Qa'ida that emphasizes policing and intelligence gathering rather than a “war on terrorism” approach that relies heavily on military force.
And these paragraphs from the introduction to the report:
A recent RAND research effort sheds light on this issue by investigating how terrorist groups have ended in the past. By analyzing a comprehensive roster of terrorist groups that existed worldwide between 1968 and 2006, the authors found that most groups ended because of operations carried out by local police or intelligence agencies or because they negotiated a settlement with their governments. Military force was rarely the primary reason a terrorist group ended, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory.

These findings suggest that the U.S. approach to countering al Qa'ida has focused far too much on the use of military force. Instead, policing and intelligence should be the backbone of U.S. efforts.
And this:
religiously motivated terrorist groups took longer to eliminate than other groups but rarely achieved their objectives; no religiously motivated group achieved victory during the period studied.
And this:
What does this mean for counterterrorism efforts against al Qa'ida? After September 11, 2001, U.S. strategy against al Qa'ida concentrated on the use of military force. Although the United States has employed nonmilitary instruments — cutting off terrorist financing or providing foreign assistance, for example — U.S. policymakers continue to refer to the strategy as a “war on terrorism.”

But military force has not undermined al Qa'ida. As of 2008, al Qa'ida has remained a strong and competent organization. Its goal is intact: to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate in the Middle East by uniting Muslims to fight infidels and overthrow West-friendly regimes. It continues to employ terrorism and has been involved in more terrorist attacks around the world in the years since September 11, 2001, than in prior years, though engaging in no successful attacks of a comparable magnitude to the attacks on New York and Washington.

Al Qa'ida's resilience should trigger a fundamental rethinking of U.S. strategy. Its goal of a pan-Islamic caliphate leaves little room for a negotiated political settlement with governments in the Middle East. A more effective U.S. approach would involve a two-front strategy:

* Make policing and intelligence the backbone of U.S. efforts. Al Qa'ida consists of a network of individuals who need to be tracked and arrested. This requires careful involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as their cooperation with foreign police and intelligence agencies.
Part of the problem here -- I've read the abstract and the summary but haven't completed the actual 253 page report yet -- is some seeming confusion within the report itself.

Most of the terrorist groups studied are nationally internal groups, ie. groups of terrorists defined within a nation. The IRA (get England out of Ireland) and the Salafists (get France out of Algeria) would be two examples. Al Qaeda is, by definition, trans-national and malleable to any number of local variations to their central theme of a pan-Islamic Caliphate. The report talks about national efforts, specifically mentioning the US and Britain among others, but since they aren't an international, unitary effort that cooperation isn't seen within the report's scope.

The other problem is the way the report seems to miss the obvious. Reread this section again:
This suggests that the United States should pursue a counterterrorism strategy against al Qa'ida that emphasizes policing and intelligence gathering....
Well, correct me if I'm wrong here, but that's exactly what we are doing inside the United States! The FBI, CIA, state and local authorities, the theater of the absurd that is airport security, and Homeland Security are doing that every day. FISA, wiretapping, surveillance, all the things the Left is in such arms about are part of the very strategy RAND espouses. Why don't the recognise that?

Now, in Iraq specifically? That's a different animal. Could we have gone to Saddam Hussein back before 2003 and said, "Hey, dude, we want you to find and arrest all those Al Qaeda n00bs. Cool?" Of course not. It's laughable to even think it.

What about Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Tougher answers. Saudi Arabia is the source of much of the money and brain-power for Al Qaeda. But America, by dint of the Bush family relationship with the Saud family and our increased dependence on Saudi goodwill to keep the oil flowing, can't really do anything against Saudi Arabia nor do we have leverage to make them do anything.

The Saudis may have broken that by allowing the price of oil to rise to $140/barrel. It's angered enough Americans to begin to pay attention and ask questions. It's spurred demand for new, American-controlled sources of oil, meaning taking a hard, clear look at why we've increased our dependence on foreign oil since the gas crisis of the Seventies. People are wondering who created the situation we're in that seems seems tailor-made to have made things even worse. It's also pushed Americans to move to smaller, more gas-efficient vehicles; pushed manufacturers to produce those vehicles; and given alternatively-powered auto manufacturers a foot in the door to the American auto market. It's all been upside for the US and bad news for OPEC.

Back to the report. We invade Afghanistan and have broken Al Qaeda there. Problem now is that they simply retreated into "Waziristan," or Al Qaeda-controlled western Pakistan. Why haven't we just pushed into Pakistan, as Barack Obama has suggested? Because, unlike dictator-controlled Iraq and Al Qaeda's theocratic dictatorship in Afghanistan, Pakistan is a democratic, elected, republic; it has a nominally credible government. It's true that the government is thoroughly corrupted, and the military (which is also corrupted) seeks to install itself as the dictatorship with Al Qaeda's help and money in exchange for the Waziristani lands. It may be teetering on the edge of viability and stability, but it's hanging in there.

There is also the problem of India. If America decided to push ahead into Pakistan, without discussing it with India, we alienate a powerful and necessary and welcome ally. We can't negotiate with India on this because they don't want Pakistani and Al Qaeda terrorists fleeing into their country, using India as a proxy battlefield for their fight with the US or as an actual battlefield; nor do the Indians want to be drawn into a war with Pakistan. There are the nuclear weapons in the area to consider.

So, in working out the calculus on how to fight Al Qaeda, the Bush administration decided to attempt to bottle up Al Qaeda into Pakistan. Remove them from Afghanistan and then deny them their western escape route and back-up base in Iraq. Once in Pakistan, as they are now, with a secured Iraq and a cowed Iran, we can then begin to work on them there. We had the necessary preconditions in Iraq, thanks to Hussein's constant evasions and escapades with the UN and the IAEA. (Remember that years-long farce?)

Hussein was playing them for fools because they were willing to be played. Everyone made money and kept their jobs, the situation was ugly but stable, so it was all good. Until the US and the Bush administration decided to not dance any more and not accept the status quo. Was it for an ulterior motive? Sure; we wanted to invade as part of the plan against Al Qaeda, to force them to move east into Pakistan.

I was never a big supporter of this plan for the simple reason that President Bush pointed out himself: it was the work of nations and generations. It's a risky adventure to commit the world to that path. Look at what happened with the United Nations, after all. Once a way for the developed nations of Europe, North America and the Anglosphere to dominate and guide the rest of the world, under cover of "world peace," it is now a money hose from the rich to the greedy, a bulwark for petty despots and Communist regimes to hide behind, and finally a lost battalion for Eurocrats and socialist-utopian one-worlders.

In other words, the Global War on Terror was doomed to diversion and perversion, never mind the question that the RAND report asks. If everyone signed on. And of course that wasn't going to happen because President Bush had an army of people who would oppose anything he did simply because it was him asking it to be done.

Never mind that Democratic President Woodrow Wilson had done pretty much the same thing a century earlier. Wilsonian internationalism had a long vogue among Democrats, until they got serious about Civil Rights and "discovered" what a monstrous racist Wilson was. Then down the memory hole with him and his ideas! Around the same time (the late Seventies) the Democrats became a haven for American isolationists. Away with strong-on-American-defense Democrats like John Kennedy and Scoop Jackson. (I'm still not sure why or how that happened and welcome anyone who can explain it.)

I still respect those Congressional and leadership Democrats who opposed the war on principled argument, who questioned sending America into the path outlined above with reason. There are precious few of them, but some are out there. I respect folks like former Democrat Joe Lieberman (a Kenndy/Jackson-style holdover) who supported the war and withstood the abuse from fellow Democrats. I utterly despise those who voted "for" the war only to about-face afterwards to oppose it, and have since nickel and dimed the war effort itself, all in the name of craven office-keeping.

And so it was necessary to reconstitute Iraq into a sovereign, democratically ruled nation with its own trustworthy and effective police and intelligence agencies so it could do as the RAND report suggests: effectively fight Al Qaeda. And the evidence is very strong indeed that we're doing that right now. That's why we went there.

Like I said, I didn't really support this grand plan, for the reasons I just outlined. But I haven't been an anti-war critic either. Our nation was committed to a huge understaking and the time to stop it was in the offing; now that we are there in Iraq we have an obligation to our soldiers and to the Iraqis to complete the task. When we reach the planning point for the next stage, that's the time to re-examine things and maybe find a new direction. Until then, we fight the hardest and most uncompromising fight we can. And then we hand off the sovereignty of Iraq to the Iraqi and let them take up the duties of nationhood, and their role in the larger fight if they want one. Then we decide which way to go next.

It's a similar plan for nations like Iran and North Korea in the near future, too, possibly. That's what the Axis of Evil warning was all about -- setting up markers for the next fronts and warning Al Qaeda where not to go. When a new political generation comes along, without ties to Saudi Arabia like the Bushes', I believe we'll see action against them, too, and a new energy policy that is serious about American energy independence. We've needed that since the Seventies.

So, folks will focus on the part of the report that says, to them, "leave Iraq" while passing right over the part that shows we're doing precisely what the report argues we should be doing!

Predictable and a shame.

Now, a related observation. I'm very surprised that so many people seem to have forgotten America's recent war with Serbia, barely a decade ago. American troops are still there to this day! No exit strategy either, not from the Clinton and Bush administrations, and certainly not from the Clintons today.

So why wasn't Hillary Clinton ever asked about Serbia/Yugoslavia during the primary season? Why has everyone, Democrat and Republican, seemed to bury this one?

Even when the world's newest nation of Kosovo was recently created from Serbia, no one in the media that I saw even mentioned our continued presence and the anti-war goofballs didn't try to pin any of that on Hillary.

What am I missing?

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